Erin Johnson/Flickr

6 Lakes and Swimming Holes Near San Francisco

Don’t get us wrong, we love the Pacific for its dramatic beauty, but the rough surf and frigid waters aren’t exactly swimmer-friendly. So we found six spots within driving distance of the city where the temps are hot and the water is perfect for cooling off.

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Erin Johnson/Flickr

JONES BAR, NEVADA CITY

In this rustic setting, you’ll find three lovely green pools dotted with boulders that are perfect for reading a good book while lying in the sun. Cool off in the clear water, which you’ll likely have all to yourself—the short but steep hike to get here deters crowds.

Independence Trail parking off Highway 49, six miles north of Nevada City; southyubariverstatepark.org

Hades Bane/Flickr

BASS LAKE, POINT REYES

Protected from the chilly coast in Point Reyes is this idyllic lake bordered by trees and rolling hills. You’ll have to hike about three miles in (watch out for poison oak), but once you get there, you’ll have all afternoon to float on a raft or test out the rope swing at this unofficial swimming spot.

Coast Trail from Palomarin Trailhead at the end of Mesa Road; nps.gov

Wayne Hsieh/Flickr

RAINBOW POOLS, GROVELAND

Just off the side of the road before you reach the gate into Yosemite National Park is a treasure that summer travelers have been frequenting since the 1920s. The area used to be a toll road stop, and there was even a lodge up on the cliff with a diving board into the largest of the three pools. It’s popular with locals, so expect crowds, but there’s still plenty of room for everyone to sun themselves on the surrounding rocks.

Highway 120 at the South Fork Tuolumne River bridge; fs.usda.gov

Julie Kern

LAKE ALOHA, DESOLATION WILDERNESS

The biggest in a system of pristine alpine lakes in the backcountry of Desolation Wilderness, Lake Aloha has crystal clear water that is very cold (blame the surrounding snowmelt). If you’re brave enough, it’s an invigorating dip; otherwise, enjoy the view from your perch on a slab on the rocky shore. Be warned: It’s a 6.7-mile hike in, but a water taxi shortens the trip.

Echo Lakes Trailhead at Echo Summit; highsierratrails.com

Rebecca Brown/Flickr

CHINA HOLE, HENRY W. COE STATE PARK

If you’re the type who likes long hikes on summer days, then this is the trip for you. From the South Bay’s Henry W. Coe State Park, you’ll start your ten-mile round-trip journey, but the challenging climb through chaparral and creek-side woodlands is worth the mid-hike reward: a secluded swimming hole with a small sandy beach and big, flat boulders for lounging.

China Hole Loop from the Corral Trail Trailhead; coepark.net

dangerismycat/Flickr

OREGON CREEK, YUBA RIVER

Talk about secluded. You’ll have to hunt for this swimming hole, but if you can find it, your own private waterfall awaits. There is even a series of mini whirlpools created by the falls. Look for a white road marker with the number 101 on it. Then park by the big dirt hump and walk about a quarter mile down a well-maintained trail to Oregon Creek.

Route 49 just under one mile from the Middle Yuba Bridge; grassvalleychamber.com

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